Do you have to go on strike with your union? Your rights explained

Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT), joins union members on the picket line outside Euston railway station

There have been mass strikes and strikes, but what if you don’t want to join the picket? (Image: PA)

2022 was the year for Strikes, but they have continued into 2023 – and many predict many more to come.

As the cost-of-living crisis continues to squeeze many households, the demand for fair pay in line with inflation has seen industries like lawyers, bus drivers, rail workers and university workers leave.

Even the nurses went on strike for the first time in the Royal College of Nursing’s 106-year history.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has invited union leaders to critical talks, but it is very likely that we will see more action later.

Organized by unions, you are protected against strikes for 12 weeks.

But do you have to join in when your union calls a strike? What are your rights and rules?

Do you have to go on strike with your union?

There are a myriad of reasons you might not want to join your union on strike, including not being able to afford to take the time off.

Whatever your reasons for not wanting to join, you might be worried about the repercussions.

So what can happen if you don’t strike?

To be honest, not much.

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Andrew Strong, Senior Tutor, Program and Student Lead for LPC and SQE at the University of Law, explains: “Just because your union has voted for industrial action doesn’t mean you are required to participate.”

“It should always be your own decision to take part in any industrial action that has been called. Nobody can legally force you to do this. While union members may legitimately try to persuade you (known as picketing), you may legitimately refuse.’

In addition, as explained on the Northern Ireland Government website, a union in the UK cannot take disciplinary action for a variety of reasons. Many of these are related to strike action.

Commuters at the closed train station

The strikes have continued into the new year (Image: Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

You may not be penalized for:

  • go to work despite a call for a strike or other industrial action
  • Crossing a picket line during a strike
  • Failure to participate in or support a strike or other industrial action
  • Opposition to or lack of support for a strike or other industrial action (e.g. voting against industrial action)
  • refuse to contribute funds to support a strike or workers who go on strike
  • refuse to breach any obligation imposed by your contract of employment or other agreement with your employer for any purpose in connection with a strike or other industrial action
  • Encouraging or assisting another person to comply with their employment contract or other agreement with their employer

If you suffer consequences from any of the above, you can lodge a complaint with an employment tribunal.

MORE : Why aren’t the police allowed to go on strike and is every other profession forbidden?

MORE : Government announces anti-strike laws for ‘minimum security levels’ of staff

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Justin Scacco

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